Hydrangeas tie the porch to the landscape. Jeanna Shepard

When photographer Joann Frechette and attorney Bob Nash bought their West Tisbury property in 2003, there wasn’t a lick of landscaping. Zero. Nada. In fact the backyard was a dirt soccer field with goal posts.

Certainly, there was potential; the 1.5 acre property—not far from the State Forest—is surrounded by mature trees, which makes it feel very private. But it is also open enough to allow nice light to come into the yard and house.

Joann and Bob knew they wanted outdoor living spaces, a chance to eat outside, a place to enjoy flowers and herbs and perennials as the seasons go by. Though the couple lives in Manhattan during the off-season, they like to spend as much of the summer, as well as spring and fall weekends, on the Vineyard. And while they also had some gardening experience and knew they’d enjoy caring for the yard, tackling a completely blank slate was daunting.

“It was overwhelming for us, to even know where to begin,” Joann said. 

The herb garden came first. Jeanna Shepard

The couple’s first step was to hire landscape designer and artist Susan Metzger to create and execute a plan for the yard—a stone patio and walkways, a traditional herb garden, perennial borders and a pergola on the front of the house to soften an awkward window. 

Nearly as soon as that work was complete, Bob began talking to Joann about adding a screened porch.

“It was his idea,” Joann laughs now. “I didn’t want the porch at first, because I was worried about it blocking light from coming into the house.”

“But we had had a porch in another house,” Bob remembers, “and it was just the most practical way to spend much, much more time outside.”

Designer Susan Metzger used a pergola and deck to connect the porch gracefully to the house. Jeanna Shepard

Joann and Bob brought Susan Metzger back into the conversation and together they settled on the idea of a detached porch—with a deck and a pergola connecting it to the house. It was both a smart and handsome solution, and one that turned out to be a nice collaboration between homeowners and designer as well.   

Susan’s goals for the new structure included allowing the exterior details of the porch to echo the main house, while allowing the interior of the porch to be a rustic timber frame. “I wanted the porch to be an extension of the house while remaining apart, and more connected to the land and the garden. I wanted a protective shelter that also felt very much a part of the outdoors.”

To physically connect the porch to the house, she chose a pergola. “I wanted to remove the porch from the house footprint so that it didn’t infringe on the light flow for the house and to give it a sense of ‘remove,’ but I also wanted the porch to be easily accessed from the home,” she said. 

“A pergola has a connective half in/half out sensibility and a deeper ‘experience’ than simply walking along a path,” she added.

A curtain made of Lorraine Parish fabric hides a fridge. Jeanna Shepard

The resulting porch, gracefully divided between dining and relaxing, surrounded by lush plantings, and connected to the house subtly, was, without a doubt, successful in every way.

“So it winds up being the place where we, you know, hang out a fair amount,” Bob says, smiling. Neither Bob nor Joann says they would change a thing.

“Friends who come over for dinner love it, too,” Bob adds. “One of my friends says the porch reminds him of when he was at sleepaway camp. So he calls it the bunkhouse. ‘Are we going to eat in the bunkhouse tonight?’ he says.”

Island Interiors' Annie Parr found the lamps. Jeanna Shepard

Conveniently, it is actually possible to sleep in the “bunkhouse” thanks to the banquette along the dining side, which is wide enough to accommodate a sleeper. The banquettes also double as storage.

“One of our sons’ friends slept out there one night and we forgot to turn off the sprinkler system. That was a surprise!” Joann remembers.

Joann and Bob’s son Jeremy is a musician, and over the past few summers, they’ve played host to two “house concerts,” where Jeremy and some of his singer/songwriter friends from New York have entertained a crowd, using the deck between the house and the porch as a stage. In an interesting twist, the musicians immediately dubbed the screened porch “the green room” when they arrived, and they hung out there between sets. 

Joann and Bob master tic tac toe before the grandkids arrive. Jeanna Shepard

The porch is decorated and furnished with almost all local finds. Joann makes a point of buying local as often as she can, so much so that friend [and writer] Tom Dunlop calls her “Miss Vineyard.”

The sconces came from Midnight Farm, the wicker chairs from the old furniture store in Vineyard Haven, the fabric over the hidden refrigerator from Lorraine Parish.

You can find similar tic tac toe sets on Ebay. Jeanna Shepard

The porch is a comfortable and calming space, a perfect place to read or play a game, and a magical destination for dining outside by candlelight and soft lamps. It feels just far enough way to be special, and close enough to be everyday accessible.